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Oxytocin and Pain: A Systematic Review and Synthesis of Findings

Rash, Joshua A. MSc; Aguirre-Camacho, Aldo BA; Campbell, Tavis S. PhD

The Clinical Journal of Pain: May 2014 - Volume 30 - Issue 5 - p 453–462
doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31829f57df
Review Article

Objectives: A review of the literature was conducted to assess the association between oxytocin (OT) and pain.

Methods: PsychInfo, PubMed, and Medline (EBSCO) research databases were searched for peer-reviewed articles written between 1950 and 2012. Of a total of 1166 articles returned, 50 (9 human, 33 animal, and 8 spinal cord samples) met full inclusion criteria and were included in the review.

Results: OT had a reliable effect as defined by increasing pain tolerance in 29 of 33 animal studies reviewed. This effect persisted across central and peripheral modes of administration and type of noxious stimulus used (eg, heat, electric). The results suggest that OT acts as an analgesic for acute pain in animals. Preliminary research with humans offers consistent evidence to suggest that OT decreases pain sensitivity, though the reliability and stability of such effects cannot yet be determined. Although the findings are encouraging, there is a need for methodologically rigorous work in humans where OT is administered centrally.

Discussion: Further research seems to be warranted as the existence of biologically and psychologically plausible mechanisms linking OT and pain have been well supported using animal models with limited but encouraging human research. Implications and recommendations are discussed. Findings from this research may inform therapeutic methods for the management of pain.

Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Tavis S. Campbell, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive, Calgary, AB, Canada T2N 1N4 (e-mail:

Received December 18, 2012

Accepted June 5, 2013

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins